Friendship can be hard. Nicole tries to make it easier. Welcome to Nicole Knows, an advice column centered on the relationships that don’t always get the most attention.
While Nicole especially welcomes questions about navigating the often complicated world of friendship, she is here for all of your questions. You can send an email to [email protected] with NICOLE KNOWS in the subject line, get in touch via Twitter or Facebook , or leave a comment below. Note: Writers’ names will never be published.
Here’s an odd one: How do you shut down a guy who wants to be your friend, but you don’t reciprocate? There’s this guy I very casually knew from college (I am also a guy, for the record), and we keep bumping into each other on the street. He invites me out to stuff relatively often, but I have no interest in being friends with him. I don’t respond to his texts or calls, but he never gets the hint and keeps trying.
Is there any way to let this guy down politely? I want to stress, he’s not stalking me. But every few months he’ll send another text or message me on Facebook asking if I want to go to something, and he’s been doing this for years.
Oh, boy. This is an almost universal experience in our brave new world, and so I am glad to be able to provide advice on it in a public forum.
The desire to be polite is so deeply ingrained in us that it can be almost impossible to say the simplest of things if we know in our hearts it might be . . . rude.
Turning someone down romantically, while difficult, is an established enough societal practice that we at least have a script for it: It’s not you, it’s me! I’m not ready for a relationship right now! I don’t see you that way! I have a boyfriend! I have a girlfriend! I’m part of a closed polyamorous triad! I have Ebola! Saying that you do not want to be someone’s FRIEND, however, is a whole different kettle of fish.
It happens, from time to time, that a person you see as an acquaintance (at most!) decides they want to leap the fence into friendship, when you are perfectly content to keep the situation exactly where it is. What you have done so far is usually the correct (if not the bravest) thing to do: declining individual invites, never reciprocating, eventually ceasing to respond. This is what I would tell my friends to do, in your situation, though usually it bears its ghostly fruit in less than a year.
I must now move from taking your question at face value to getting a little bit more concerned. I know you say you’re sure he’s not stalking you, but I am troubled by “we keep bumping into each other on the street.” That’s not something that . . . happens a lot? I have bumped into people I know all over God’s green earth, but usually just the once. If you live in a very small town, this may be overly suspicious of me! Do you? And do you randomly bump into other people you know with the same regularity?
If the answer to the latter question is “yes,” then we can move forward with an easy mind. If the answer is “no,” then I suspect you are, in fact, dealing with an individual who is at least stalker-adjacent, and I would encourage you to look up resources accordingly. I send my best luck to you if that is, in fact, the case.
Assuming the answer is indeed yes, and this gentleman is just really bad at taking hints, let’s huddle and strategize. If, in fact, this is just a nuisance that pops up “every few months,” how much of a nuisance is it, really? You need to decide if it’s enough of a nuisance to do something about it that brings with it the possibility of Unpleasantness. You’ve written to an advice column for help, so I feel safe in assuming that this is bugging you enough that you want it to stop.
One vote for being direct is that there is a decent chance this individual is not as adept at social cues as many of us (for which there could be a bevy of reasons), and it’s respectful and kind to address social situations as though the other person is operating in good faith and desires your good in return. You might say, “Hey, I’m not sure if you have me on a group list for these invites or if they’re just for me! If it’s the former I don’t feel bad not responding, but if not, I’m just pretty busy these days in general, so although it’s great to hear from you, I’m just not looking to get together right now.” (This feels SO RUDE to me to type out, but it isn’t, not really, and can be a great gift to those who prefer clarity in their social interactions instead of the fog of war under which we operate so much of the time.)
If this is too much for you (and it might be!) let’s give technology one last chance to solve the problem for you: Unfriend him on Facebook, and send his phone number to whatever equivalent of the yawning void your cell provider offers. If he’s really just some guy who occasionally thinks it’s fun to try to hang out with you, it will take him a while to notice, and if he notices INSTANTLY, well, he’s been spending too much time looking at your Facebook page and we’re back to stalker territory.
What’s more likely is that, having done this, you will eventually bump into him on the street, and he may ask you why you unfriended him, at which point a breezy “oh, I’ve been paring down my friend list to family and people I see every day! It was just getting hard to stay on top of everyone’s updates. I need to get to work, have a great weekend!” should do the trick.
You’re not writing back to him at this point anyway , so blocking his texts just eliminates the vague annoyance/awkwardness of having to see his invites on a semi-annual basis.
If I had to force-rank your options, I would go with:
Magically choose to care less; ignore freely
Politely but directly request to be taken off invite list
Unfriend/mute/hide from timeline
I know this is hard. Surely, if someone wants to be our friend, it would be churlish to refuse them! It may be helpful for you to think of yourself as Beyoncé, or Lin-Manuel Miranda: Everyone they meet wants to be friends with them, and clearly THAT’S not possible. Well, it’s not possible for you either, it’s just a question of scale. There’s nothing wrong with putting your energies into people who delight and complement you, and having other people that you simply wish the best for.
Good luck in all your future endeavors! We are not friends, but that’s okay.